Feel like talking hoops? Want to be motivated? Want to hear a rare passion and desire to succeed? Joyce Walker, womens basketball coach at Garfield High School, can do it all, and then some. From her days as a kid playing at the local Y against her little brother (who is her hero) and other boys to her stellar high school career at Garfield and subsequent All-American career at LSU, Joyce has tales to tell. She reminisces fondly of her years with the Harlem Globetrotters, her Olympic gold experience, her European pro career, the list goes on. Her friends and acquaintances are a Who's Who of basketball: Slick Watts, Lenny Wilkins, Gary Payton, Lynette Woodard and many more.
The Los Angeles native was raised by her aunt, had spinal meningitis and moved north with her nine siblings when she was nine and the Northwest inherited one of the all-time greatest female basketball players and one of the finest people in the country. With the Y just a block away from her home, young Joyce didn't play against other girls. Going against boys toughened her up and gave her the competition needed to take her game higher and higher. She learned how to slash to the rim, lay the ball in and take a foul; she learned how to initiate contact, sink the shot and draw the foul.
A master of the three-point play without using the arc, though Walker could score any number of ways including the long-range bomb.
By the time her senior year rolled around, Joyce had nearly 400 schools from every division wanting her. Powerhouses like UCLA, USC, Louisiana Tech, Texas and countless others offered scholarships. But she wanted to go where the greatest womens basketball in the country was played: the Southeast Conference (SEC). So she chose LSU, partly because of the winning tradition there, but also to get away from Seattle for personal reasons.
The 5'9" shooter's heroes range from Wilma Rudolph, Anne Meyer to Magic Johnson, Wally Walker and others.
All the while Joyce Walker had that burning fire to be the best. As a girl, she'd talk her way into Sonics practices and, soon, was part of Lenny Wilkins' Sonics family, a regular fixture who was looked-after by former SuperSonics Jack Sikma, Dennis Johnson, Gus Williams, etc. She still remembers her two front teeth being knocked back to the top of her mouth by an elbow from Slick Watts. They've been buddies ever since.
Now in the Louisiana State Hall of Fame, Joyce broke LSU's and the SEC's scoring records by mid-season of her senior year and went on to shatter both. Her SEC record stood for a decade and a half before Tennessee and current WNBA great Chamique Holdsclaw broke it by just a few points in 1999.
Upon graduation in 1984, Joyce headed overseas to Italy and Germany where she played as a pro, earning a cool tax-free $45,000 per year as a premier player.
After helping the United States win gold at the Junior Olympics and World University Games (where the American women broke through to defeat the dominant Soviet Union), Joyce earned a spot on the 1984 Olympic team that won gold in Los Angeles. She says just wearing the red, white and blue made her feel as proud as she ever has in her life.
Walker became only the second woman to be a Harlem Globetrotter. A couple weeks earlier, Lynette Woodard signed on with the famous team. She was entertaining crowds with Meadowlark Lemon, Curly and all the Globetrotters for two and a half years before moving on. As a Globetrotter rookie, a bobbled ball or mistake called for some major punishment, all in jest of course. But 290 games a year finally took its toll.
Asked how she and star women players of the late-70's/early-80's compare to the lady hoopsters of today and Joyce believes the talent was fairly equal. There simply was no television exposure back then to show the public what was happening with women on the hardwood. She has high praise for the women who blazed the trail and built the bridge that has enabled the recent explosion in womens basketball. Anne Meyers, Lynette Woodard, Sheryl Miller… And Joyce Walker.
She eventually returned to Seattle and began watching basketball games, men and women alike. While heading up a youth organization that helps girls with everything from studies to health to sports to etiquette, Joyce became friends with people at her high school alma mater. Having seen all of her life how hard work and maximum effort and dedication are needed to succeed on the court, she became disturbed by the play she was watching. Girls were satisfied with mediocre efforts and results. "Easily satisfied," she describes it, and it made her angry. That winning edge was missing. This prompted Walker to tell the Garfield Athletic Director that if the head coaching position ever opened up, she'd be interested.
Sure enough, the job became available two years ago and the Garfield Lady Bulldogs had a new coach at the helm: Joyce Walker.
Last year was her first season at GHS and Joyce guided her young women to a division lead and flashes of brilliance before bowing out in regionals. It was one of the most successful seasons in recent years for the inner-city school. But it was only a beginning.
With an abundance of athleticism and talent, and a renewed winning spirit, you can hear the excitement in Walker's voice as she explains how they'll run an up-tempo offense and a pressure defense that will cover all 90 feet of the court. She rattles off names of her student-athletes who she believes have bright futures, not only at Garfield but in Division 1 programs later on. She stresses academics and is obviously proud that all members of her team have GPA's above 3.0.
"Without academics," she says, "you have nothing; you can't play ball."
Her stance on this is unwavering and firm. You don't play for Joyce Walker if you don't study and perform in the classroom. "Zero tolerance," she says. Period.
She has been asked by UW womens coach June Daugherty to be an assistant for the Lady Huskies, but, despite her many years of prowess as a star player, Joyce realizes that she has a lot to learn yet about coaching and right now Garfield is the best fit for her. But a pipeline has been put in place for Joyce's Lady Bulldogs (to UW) and more are starting to open as the high talent that the boys program has enjoyed is now beginning to translate over to her girls program.
When asked if she knew about the success of Gonzaga's men, yes, she was well aware of the Zags and their Sweet Sixteens. She's also very aware that Gonzaga has a womens program that, despite some recent down years, has much to offer as head coach Kelly Graves and staff begin turning things around. Joyce has high praise for the young Seattle-area women that have just been recruited by Gonzaga.
Joyce Walker has been breaking new ground ever since her teenage years. Maybe her next breakthrough will have something to do with Garfield and Gonzaga. Whatever the challenge might be, this is one special lady who will triumph, just as she's been doing for decades.
You can learn more about Joyce Walker's Hoop Sense Fundamentals Academy by going to www.hoopsense.com.